DIY How To

Choosing The Right Cladding

Garden structures are generally functional. Your shed, summerhouse, garden office, wooden gazebo, even the rabbit hutch and dog kennel, all play a role in how you use your garden. Such structures though are never purely functional: they have form, texture and colour. By considering those design elements, you can change your whole garden. We've all seen the instant effect colour has when fences and sheds are painted or stained. Quick and easy, and with a wide range of colours available, your garden structures immediately change the way your garden looks.

Which Materials to use?

But what about form and texture? And what about ensuring that your shed, now a carefully considered design aspect of your garden, can withstand the weather and time?
Cladding, not as easy as a quick paint or woodstain job, but still a relatively straightforward job for any home improver. Cladding will add integral strength and durability to your garden structures, protecting them against the weather and adding a layer of insulation. Cladding will also, though, let you consider form and texture as well as colour. Your garden structures can become design features around which the picture of your garden can develop.

You have basically four cladding materials to consider: wooden boards, WPC – wood plastic composite boards, metal sheets, or fibre cement sheets. The use of any will affect the form of your structures: think of the cladding as way of sculpting the outside of your garden structure. The basic form is the same, but the edges and the faces are more interesting and potentially, depending on the cladding used, have more depth. All four materials will give you a variety of textures and colours to add to your design. Will you choose sleek and modern, or traditional? Will you choose to soften the structure and blend it into the garden, or create a bold statement? Will you use horizontal lines or vertical to visually alter the length, width and height?

The first choice by many. Timber Cladding is natural, warm, adds texture from both the grain and the style of boards, easily finished with treatments to extend durability or redecorated, easily repaired, and there are a range of woods to suit all budgets: pine, western red cedar, oak and larch being the most common. For the eco conscious, it's renewable, especially if sourced from certification schemes ensuring its sustainability; has a low carbon footprint to produce; and encourages tree planting which uses CO2 from atmosphere. As a natural product though as temperature and humidity levels change, wood will expand or contract to a certain extent, usually across the grain, and this should be considered when choosing and fixing your cladding boards. Styles of cladding boards generally available are:

Square edge, which overlap the board below. These are rough sawn with a uniform thickness. The rain simply runs down the front of the boards.

Square Edge

Feather-edged, which again overlap the board below and are rough sawn. However, each board is tapered across its width with the narrow edge being overlapped. This gives a less chunky effect to the wall.

Feather Edge

Ship-lap, which is planed timber, shaped at the front so that the bottom edge of each board overlaps the top edge of the board below. Rain runs down the front face without being able to get behind the cladding. Aesthetically, a much smoother effect than square or feather edge and you have a double striped effect.

Ship Lap

Tongue and groove, which is again planed timber but with a flat front face. Rain cannot get behind the cladding as the groove fits over the tongue of the board below. If you fix through the tongue you can hide the fixing with the groove: helpful if you want a smooth sleek profile.

Tongue Groove

Ship-lap, tongue and groove, which, as its name suggests, is like ordinary Ship-lap but with a groove in the bottom edge and a tongue on the top so the boards slot together. Like tongue and groove the fixings can be hidden and like shiplap you have a double striped effect.

Ship Lap Tongue Groove

With tongue and groove, and both sorts of shiplap cladding always make sure that the tongue or the shaped overlap are long enough to allow for any contraction of the wood that could disengage the tongue from the groove or reduce the overlap to leave a gap.


Cladding by Matt Clark

WPC – wood plastic composite:
Made from polymers and ground hardwood mixed together, these boards can resemble the shiplap and tongue and groove wooden boards but are more durable. Resistant to temperature, moisture and UV-light, and with colours added during manufacture there is no need for additional finishes to protect and or colour thus reducing maintenance. Often made from recycled wood and plastics, WPC boards can be an eco-choice although their manufacture will have a higher carbon footprint than the traditional wooden boards.

Metal sheets:
Think beyond the traditional rusty corrugated sheets roofing farm buildings. With either a box profile or the traditional 3" corrugated profile, steel sheets used for cladding can be a bold statement in your garden design. With the box profile, fixings can be hidden in the small profiles which fit against the wall leaving smooth lines and faces. Alternatively, the fixings on the corrugated sheets can themselves add to the texture created: spots on undulating stripes. You can stay with the traditional plain galvanised steel, although that silvery grey will dull in time. Or you can add colour with polyester coated steel that has a smooth painted finish in a range of colours, or even add additional texture with PVC plastisol coated steel that has a plastic vinyl coating with textures such as leather grain, wood grain or 'golf ball' effect. PVC plastisol coated steel is ideal to use if your garden is by the sea as the salt in the air won't affect it.

Fibre cement wall cladding:
Made from sand, cement and cellulose fibres this is a high strength corrugated sheet that comes in a range of colours and has an impressive list of benefits: limited susceptibility to rot and insects, resistant to fire damage, more resistant to the weather than other materials, resistant to warping and permanent water damage, easy to work with, low maintenance, and has a lower carbon footprint in manufacture than other wall materials except wood.

All cladding should be attached to battens fixed on your structure's wall with a layer of water repellent coating or breather membrane plus an extra insulation layer if required. Both the top of the cladding and the external corners are opportunities for further design features as you may need to add edgings to ensure water can run off over the cladding and not behind it.

So go on, rethink your garden structures. Don't simply pick up the paint brush to add some colour. Be a designer; think form, texture and colour, and clad.

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